Monday, December 14, 2015

The Last Aid Station Interview on Mountain Bike Radio

Here is the link:

On that blistering hot day back in August, when I was racing the Maah Daah Hey 100, a gentleman racer held up a cattle gate, allowing me to ride through first.  I would never have thought crossing paths with Steve Hamlin during a race in North Dakota would lead to an interview on Mountain Bike Radio.  I don't remember Steve as he remembers me, but I DEFINITELY remember his wife, Lynn. With temperatures hitting 100 degrees, no shade, and just shy of becoming a heat casualty, she filled my Camelbak with ice out of her cooler.  I could have cried, if I wasn't so dehydrated.

And so I got a FB message last week, asking if I would care to give an interview.  Well hells yeah, I would.  I have enjoyed listening to Mountain Bike Radio (MBR) over the past year or so, in particular The Last Aid Station and JRA.  Never having had an opportunity like this, and being the "A" type personality, I had Steve send me a list of questions we would cover.  Despite doing some homework, when the interview started, my mind was in "Speedy Gonzalez" mode, but what came out of my mouth seemed more like "Porky Pig" speech.  (At least that is what it seemed upon reflection afterwards.)

So, being "Mrs. Perfect", I feel inclined to clarify a few things.

On the topic of the pushing more women to get involved in the sport, I feel that if anyone one group is particulary responsible, it is we (other women) who need to encourage and support women's growth.  And not necessarily pushing them into racing.  If we can show our ladies a great time on the trail through local bike shop group rides and industry-backed women's programs like Bell Joy Ride and Rebecca Rusch's SRAM Gold Rush Tour, then there is going to be a gradual and ever increasing trickle over to the racing aspect of mountain biking.  If we can create more women's cycling groups like Sorella and Velo Vixens, then the camaraderie will grow and with it more entries into races as we like to have the friendship and support of others when tackling a course, be it a 9 mile XC loop or an all day epic adventure into the wilderness.

On the subject of field size, since I haven't participated in alot of "mainstream" races such as the NUE series or the regional XC series, I have not seen any significant growth.  More often that not, I am lining up with only 3-5 other women.  Having said that, in the races that fall under NUE's umbrella or those that have a festival like weekend associated with it, I do believe the numbers have increased since I entered the sport more than a decade ago.

What would I have done differently 10 years ago?  Better nutrition, listening to my body ... and taken a skills camp or two.  Anyone can "ride" a bike, but to "handle" the bike and make you a better rider, there are a lot of skills than need to be learned the correct way.  Having taken two skills camps this year, I have learned so much and had to retrain my way of riding and handling my steed.  The result is that I have become faster and more confident.

Thanks for listening!

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Coldwater Enduro Race Report

The only time I had ridden at Coldwater had been in August of 2012, when the first 11 miles of trail had just been built.  At that time, I wasn't all that impressed.  It felt like a never ending downhill pump track followed by a relentless climb up a series of loose, short, and steep little grunts that all looked the same.

After the memories of that trip had faded and with many more miles of new trail built, I decided to give the mountain another chance.  And what better way to experience it than at the hands of the 3rd Coast Enduro Series.  So after packing up after the Cahaba 50, I drove up Saturday night, set up camp, and slept beneath the hum of the power lines.  I opted out of the night enduro, but heard the next day that it was scarily fun!

I chose to see it as my lucky number.

After a solid night's sleep and a much more laid back morning, I pedaled off to the top of Talledega to the first stage.  I took it super easy on the transition, as my legs were barking after the previous day's effort.  Along the way I met some new friends, including Kayley Burdine, who was trying out this "new to her" enduro thing.

Talledega ... think wide open and fast!

Stage 1:  Talledega --> Trillium --> OHV trail --> Tortoise --> Hare. Everyone was just milling around at the top; no one but me, seemed eager to get started.  Finally "Mama Bear" yelled at the men to get their heads out of their a$$es and GO!  After a few fast dudes went, I hopped in line.  Attempting to go from 0 to 60 in less than 5 seconds hurt!  With legs screaming, I flew down the double track and hopped onto some sweet flowing single track.  Traction was better than I thought and I did not have to use the stoppers much.  The OHV trail reminded me of fall line Pisgah trail; no need to pedal here, it was all about finding the fastest line and not being bucked off by the large baby heads.  Tortoise and Hare were super flowy with a few tight switchbacks which had me going from 60 to 0 quickly.  Two dudes were riding up; they were lucky I came upon them during one of the tight turns or I would have been the bowling ball and they the pins!  Other than the long delay of stopping my transponder at the end of the run, I felt pretty good about it.

Stage 2:  New Trail --> Jump Trail.  This one was quite pedaly and I felt like a slug.  I also completely boofed the rock garden!  Being in too hard a gear, I had to dismount and run it.  That was costly!  In a couple spots with no confirmation taping, I slowed a couple times, wondering if I had missed a turn.  I thought this one was a short one and when it seemed to go on and on, I began to have doubts.  Finally I saw the white SRAM tape that indicated the finish was near.  I clocked out, mentally kicking myself for the mistakes.

Transition to Stage 3

Stage 3:  Talledega --> OHV trail --> Goldilocks.  Heading South on Talledega the left hand turn came up quickly.  Fortunately for me, but unfortunate for Eric, I had seen him go the wrong way down the double track and so knew to go left.  Later I heard that a couple others did the same as Eric. Goldilocks was fun.  The downhill pump track feeling that I hated 3 years ago I now thoroughly enjoyed!  I opted to roll all of them due to my tired legs and loose over hardpack conditions, but given a fresh body and hero dirt, I could see how it would be "oh so fun!" to send it!

Stage 4:  Bomb Dog Bypass --> Bombdog.  By far the funnest!  And, being 3 hours into the race, my legs were finally warmed up.  Feeling the flow, this run felt the best.  The trail rolled well, the corners were sweeping, and not much pedaling involved.  I tried to conserve every bit of momentum possible, concentrating on all the skills I had learned during the two skills camps I had taken this year. I felt really good about this run.

After pedaling back up to the Start/Finish area, it would now be a waiting game.  At least this time, I wasn't the first one done.  While waiting, I was able to clean up, eat, and break down my campsite. Finally the times were posted.  I was first.  Kayley came in second, but only because her mistakes were more costly than mine.

Ladies with mad skilz (but directionally challenged)!

I am glad I gave Coldwater a second chance.  I need to get back and explore the rest with fresh legs.

Thanks to Brent and Shelly for another nice event and cash payout!  I am looking forward to Cranksgiving.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Cahaba 50 Race Report

Not really excited about camping out at the venue, but not wanting to pay upwards of $150-$200 for a one night hotel stay, I chose the lesser of two evils.  The Talledega 500 was this weekend as well and the hotels decided to cash in on it.

Thankful for mild conditions.

After a restless night of sleep, in which I determined my sleeping pad to be unacceptable for future camping trips, I rolled out of my tent, prepared some coffee by headlamp, and enjoyed the 60 + degreee temps.

Knowing there was the potential of a $100 bill awaiting me at mile 9.5, I had a good deep warm up. The race crowd was quite small and I was able to settle in the second row for the start.  A fast start had me spun out of my 30T chain ring on the flats.  I was still able to jump in the single track in the top 20 with Laureen breathing down my wheel. The trails were super loose and my speeds were, for once, not governed by my barking legs, but by my skills.  As I finished up the first sections of single track and popped out onto the Red Road climb, I no longer heard Laureen behind me.  With the pressure off, I settled into a pace I could hopefully sustain for the remainder of the race.

The ringing cowbell signaled the top of the KOM/QOM.  With John calling me out as the QOM winner, I took the next two miles along the ridge to recover and ready myself for Jeckyll and Hyde. Fall was definitely in the air and I breathed in the crisp fresh smell of fallen leaves.  A couple guys caught up to me as my heart rate was coming off my hummingbird high.  No worries, I caught back up to them along the technical Hyde section.  Happy for all 4 inches of travel, my Niner floated over the rocks, which had apparently grown in the past year.

Traction at last!

Hyde seemed effortless, but Jeckyll, on the other hand, had my legs burning with lactic on the short climbs.  I suppose the XC pace during the first 10 miles of the race had caught up to me.  With 35 miles still left to race, I needed to recover quickly in order to finish strong. Making myself eat and drink, I also spun a high cadence to try to flush my legs.  I also tried to ride efficient, using gravity and technique to roll pump track parts of the trail.

Popping out onto Pea Vine Road, my legs felt better.  The 3 mile climb back up the mountain on the paved road was not as suffery as I expected it to be.  Hitting the green-red connector over to Blood Rock, I was back in race mode.  This trail was really sketchy and I almost swapped ends a couple times.  The 20 or so yards leading up to the rocky drop on Blood Rock was by far the hardest section of the whole course.  The two tight switchbacks were littered with loose baby-head rocks that did their best to take the front wheel out from under me.  Blood Rock was the driest and easiest it has ever been.  And no one in my way this year ... small victory!

Caution = Fun!  Photo credit:  John Karrasch

Flying down the rest of this trail, I tried to make up precious time I had lost when my legs were hangry (heavy and angry).  Crossing Pea Vine Road, the volunteers let me know I had 4 to go.  I tried pushing it a little bit climbing up Johnson's Mountain.  I was going to have to stop and refill my CamelBak and did not know if Laureen was going to stop at the pits.  Finally cresting the top, I enjoyed dropping back down to the remaining 2 flattish miles to the Start/Finish area.  Rolling through the pits, my first lap was 2:09.  With 40 seconds of pit time, I was off for the second lap.

The first 10 miles was a grunty sufferfest.  Definintely much slower this time, I was running on fumes towards the top.  Rolling the ridge for the second time, I kept telling myself just one more climb (although there were several more).  Hoping to trick my legs into submission, it seemed to work.  Jeckyll and Hyde flew by and seemed easier this time.  The "last climb" up Peavine was a manageable grind.

The flow of Jeckyll

For the remainder of the course, I felt like I was on autopilot.  Going on muscle memory, I went as hard as I could on Foreplay and Rattlesnake Ridge.  Watching my speedo, I knew that this lap was going to be alot slower and so was trying to minimize the difference.  I rolled through the finish line with a time of 4:26, the second lap being almost 6 minutes slower.

Laureen finished a close second and Tiffany third.  It had been several years since I had seen and raced Laureen.  We spent some time catching up with each other.  She is truly a great competitor and humble person.  And ... I got to meet her mechanic, "full-face" Kenny of JRA fame.

In the presence of bike knowledge awesome-ness!

I want to thank Kenny for working his arse off to make Chainbuster Racing what it is today.  Eddie Freyer has some big footsteps to fill, but am confident he will be able to get it done.  Looking forward to scheduling some of his races in 2016!

And with that, I broke down my campsite and drove up the road to race the 3rd Coast Enduro Series at Coldwater on Sunday.  But not looking forward to that damn sleeping pad!  Now I understand what Zeke means when he says his hips ache at night if he has to sleep on his side.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

5 Points 50 Race Report

After missing last year's race, I was looking forward to racing some sweet single track atop Lookout Mountain.  But after listening to it rain ALL NIGHT LONG, I was not too happy about the mudbath that it would be.  My attitude soon changed after seeing Kevin Scoggins toeing the line.  10 years battling cancer, 133 IV chemo treatments ... I needed to wipe my frowny face off and be thankful for another day on this earth.

Kevin, an inspiration to many!

The race started out with a painful climb out of the Lula Lake Land Trust and onto the highway.  My short warm up was not enough and my legs were barking.  I missed making the lead group and played catch up for the next 6 miles.  All the while a gentle rain was coming down.  I was able to keep most of it out of my eyes with my front fender, shower cap, and glasses.

Once we turned into the 5 Points single track, all traction was lost. Think about a water park, but instead of getting an inner tube, you have a bike.  It was a 15+ mile Slip n' Slide.  I was trying to make up the time I lost on the descents "swapping ends" by digging a little bit harder on the climbs. Unfortunately, I left my climbing legs at home. However, I did have my rock garden legs on and was very happy on CapRock ... I just wished there were more rocks.

Coming through the Ascalon trailhead, I skipped the aid station and motored onto the pavement for a short ways before dumping into the next bit of single track.  I was a little nervous about the rock garden on Barkeater and the super technical Kindergarden Trail.  Fortunately the trail was clear and I was able to find my groove.  Aside from the short, planned 10 yard run on Barkeater, I cleaned Kindergarden without any "oh crap" moments.  I was amazed at the traction I had on the wet rocks. And yeah, it was still raining.

Coming back into the Ascalon trailhead, Lisa called out that I was only 2 minutes behind Nina. Seriously?  I had felt so slow through the mud of 5 Points that I expected her to be much farther ahead.  For some reason, I did not have "the fight" in me to  give chase.  I kept my same happy racing pace and hoped for the best.

Tailings Run is super fun when dry, but due to its tight, twisty, up/down 1/2 track, in the mud it is very sketchy.  I had a grand "Oh, shit!" moment here when I came into a corner too fast and about launched off the mound into the woods below.  How the heck I managed to save it I do not know, but it wasn't too long after the near catastrophe, that I came upon Nina.  Apparently Mother Nature called ... or she was changing her diaper (which is pretty much what our shorts/bibs had turned into by this point).  Anyhoo, she quickly hopped on her bike and caught up to me.

We talked a bit and then went back into competition mode, with me giving her the trail.  I just wasn't super amped to turn myself inside out on this "slicker 'n snot on a doorknob" trail after what has just recently happened.  I kept her insight for the remainder of 5 Points, but once we crossed the road onto the CCT, she slowly pulled away.

The CCT felt very monotonus.  I kept wanting to see the right-hand turn onto the Long Branch community's trail system.  It reminded me of climbing up the Buckhorn Gap Trail in Pisgah.  After 1320 corners, I finally saw the signage for the turn.  This section of the course is old school primitive trail.  Lots of rocks, roots, and moss, with a healthy dose of creek crossings and one nice hike a bike.  I was in my happy place and was able to push just a bit harder.

I stopped at the aid station, dropped my CamelBak, and grabbed a bottle for the final push.  After a short road section, I took a left onto some double track that led back to the Lula Lake trails.  It was all about taking baby steps on the steeper double track.  Once onto the trails (Turkey, Jedi, Homestead, Creek) I was back in my happy place. I actually found the single track here to be easier than at 5 Points.  It had held up well under the rains and traction was great.

Coming down the Ford Trail I about clotheslined my bike with this rope stretched across the trail.  What the ...?  Then I saw it go across the creek that after last night became a river.  (The last time I  crossed this it was only calf deep.  Today it took all I could muster to hold my bike with one hand as high over my shoulder as my fatigued muscles would allow.  With the other hand I had a death grip on the rope.  The water rose to my crotch ... then to my waist ... then to just below my HR strap. Slipping and sliding my way on the rocks hidden beneath the muddy surge of water, I managed to cross without any mishap.

Climbing back up, I began to smell barbeque.  Knowing I still had another 8-10 miles left, I did not let seeing the finish discourage me. One last push up to the pavement and I settled into a nice cadence for the 2 mile stretch of pavement.

And then a left onto the infamous PowerLine climb.  The last time I had done this race back in 2013, this section almost left me demoralized as 2nd place caught me here while I was pushing my bike. Today, I was in a much better state of mind.  And having not blown myself up in the first half of the race, the climb was not so bad.  I managed to avoid most of the peanut butter mud.  Back into the woods, I cruised through the ATV trails with relative ease.  After a nice descent, I arrived at an unmarked split.  Uh, oh!  Do I go left through the creek or right?  I did not remember this crossing from 2 years ago. And I could not make out any tire tracks either way.  After a minute or so, another racer came through and assured me that course crossed the creek.

Some more short climbs followed by one last gnarly descent where I had my 2nd "Oh shit!" moment as I nose-wheelied off the unexpected rock drop.  Fortunately I managed to reflexively grab the right brake and get my ass back down.

I climbed back out onto the road for a short bit of pavement before heading back down the gravel road to the finish.  I had to quickly scrub some speed on the steep pavement section when the left turn came up a bit too quickly.  I rolled under the finish banner in 5:18, 2 minutes down from Nina.

I had a fabulous day on the bike despite the conditions.  For me it was a mentally challenging day. But once I got my head right, I enjoyed the mud and the slick conditions.  It is races like these that will make you a better technical rider.

There was only a brief moment of the "shoulda, woulda, coulda's." After seeing that I was only 2 minutes down from 1st, I thought that maybe if I had just pushed it a bit harder, I might have had a fighting chance of pulling out a win.  But, during the race, when I tried going harder, it just hurt too much.  And today, I was just not willing to go to that degree of suffering.  That, and I was concerned of making mistakes that could result in injury.  And finally, Nina probably would have just put the afterburners on if I had been able to close the gap.

I have no regrets; just a feeling of peaceful bliss.

Nina ... such an uber strong and super cool competitor.

I also want to give a shout out to Melanie Blake Singer, who came in third, on a single speed. I met her earlier this year at the Night Shift 6 Hour Race.  She has just recently come back into the racing scene ... on a SS.  She is getting stronger with every race. She is an inspiration to all women who might think that they are too "old" to try anything new.  I can say this, 'cuz I am old, too  ;)!

Powerful women's podium.
Glad it wasn't the 5 Points 65!

I am happy to report that after detailing my bike, the only parts I will have to replace are my rear brake pads.  Despite a cup of water that came spewing out from my seat tube, no harm was done to any bearings.  So to all your racer peeps that don't want to race in the rain for fear of destroying your bike, that is just an old wives' tail.  The real reason you bail is because you don't want to have to clean mud out of every orifice for the two days following.

More mud inside than outside.  #loadeddiaper

Friday, September 18, 2015

The Vapor Trail 125 Race Report

After 5 years of knowing about this event and 3 years of suffering at the hands of Eric Wever, I finally decided to throw my resume into the ring and seek a stamp of approval.  That's right, you just don't sign up for this one.  I had to write a letter to the director convincing him that I would not die during his event and then had to list races to "back it up."  With races like PMBAR, Double Dare, P36, and Pisgah 111K, I felt ready to tackle 125 miles (100 of which is above 9000 feet), 18,000 feet of climbing, weather which could change in a minute, and a 10pm start.

I went into this with no expectations other than to finish.  To ensure that I would not go into crack-head racer mode, I brought along my camera.  My concerns were with the altitude and how my feet would respond to 17+ hours of being on them.  Because of my neuropathy, I have limited my riding/racing to no more than 12 hours. The longest this season was the Maah Daah Hey at 12 hours and I had some painful moments there.

Grateful for my riding buddies and the warm and dry start conditions.

Finally, after a painstakingly long day, the gun went off at 10 pm.  The start was a nice, leg-warming 5 mile neutral roll out, with a short break just before the highway crossing, so that we all had the chance of adjusting clothing and bladder levels.  Once the road turned to dirt, it was game-on for all the fast dudes and dudettes.  I comfortably settled in to the back of the pack and pedaled a sustainable pace that would hopefully last the next 16-20 hours.

The night gently wrapped its arms around me and as I rode away from Salida, the stars greeted me with a sparkling brilliance, something that I don't get the chance to see back home.  When I arrived at the trail head around 11:45 am, I stopped to add a layer of clothing.  Once on the Colorado Trail, I had to turn off the philosophical thoughts and turn on all the skills I have acquired over the years to ride a fairly demanding trail by head lamp.

A few short HAB's, some tricky bridge crossings, lots o' rocks, lots o' flow, some jumps, one Sasquatch-like rustling just off the trail, and the final steep descent had me popping out onto the dirt road a very happy camper.  Well, until I tried to raise my dropper post ... and nothing but crickets.  Oh, crap!  I stopped, got off the bike, and tried to lift my dropper.  It came up, but then drooped back down.  After cycling it through its range a few times and being unsuccessful, I rode my "clown bike," to Aid Station #1, which was fortunately only a mile up the road.

Matt the Mechanic (and an awesome one at that), quickly jumped on my situation, and bled my droopy dropper at 1:50 in the morning, by dim light.  Bleeding it had no effect; unable to fix my post, I quickly pulled out my Enduro collar which fortunately I had brought (just in case).  Matt installed it, while I ate a couple dates and an Ally's Bar.

I rode off into the unknown, thinking how my super duper dropper that had once made descending fast and furious, was just now dead weight that I was going to have to drag around for the next 100 miles.  I quickly kicked those bad thoughts out the door and reveled in how I was blessed to be tackling this race.  I soon came to the rockslide across the narrow gauge railroad trail.

Fortunate to be able to scout this section as it was a little more sketchy in the dark.

After scrambling over the rockslide, I came upon "JRA Superfan" Jake from Golden, Colorado. Together we rode the steady grade up to St. Elmo and then continued on climbing up Hancock Road.  This section was not physically hard, but seemed to go on forever.  And the cold was settling in.  Jake and I talked a bit, but found more comfort as silent partners, sharing the pace up to the Alpine Tunnel.

Arriving at the trailhead, I came upon Kip's bike, but no sign of Kip.  I called out his name and from the bushes a few yards away, he replied. I think he was making race weight. Good idea, so I dropped trou right where I was, modesty be damned!

With frost on the vegetation, and feeling the cold penetrate my core, I pulled out some chemical warmers, knee warmers, ear band, and jacket.  I struggled to put it all on, as my fingers were frozen and unwilling to do what I told them.  Several minutes later, we were off on the Alpine Narrow Gauge Trail, Jake, Kip, and I.  This railbed was rougher than the first, as a lot of ties were still left.  In most places I was able to skirt around them, but every now and again, I got my teeth rattled riding over a section of them.

After a nice 3-4% grade on this, the trail suddenly turned left and went UP!  After a combo ride/HAB, I was at Alpine Station.  Then began a fun rocky descent.  As I was racing down, I saw a sign for bacon.  I blew it off, thinking I was hallucinating at 11,000 feet.  Then I saw another sign for bacon.  Then I smelled bacon!  And just ahead was the bacon oasis!  Manned by THE Jefe Branham (2014 Tour Divide winner) and Rachel A., Aid Station 1.5 was a welcome sight.

Bacon and dates:  foods of biking fools at 3am.

With belly full and combustion beginning, my core quickly warmed up.  The climb up to Tomichi Pass at 11,900 feet, followed by a short descent and then THE SLOG up to the top of the mountain at 12,400 feet was the second hardest section of the course for me.  1000 feet of gain in 1 mile is NO JOKE.  Think Farlow Gap, but 7000 feet higher.  Fortunately, the sun was rising, and what a spectacular sight that was.  It made the climb bearable.

Filling my pouches with more dates.

And the Copper Canyon single track descent made the climb worthwhile.  This descent is the longest one I have ever been on.  And while some lesser descents I have ridden over the years have been almost unbearable at the end, this one was fun ALL THE WAY DOWN.  11 miles and 3500 feet of elevation loss.  In between techy rock gardens were ribbons of flow.  Super fun, despite my handicapped dropper.  One little kick to the crotch at the end, but over fairly quickly, and then dropping on down into Snowblind where Aid Station #2 sits.  Jake had popped off the back during the climb up to Canyon Creek, but I expected him to catch us on this 1 hour + descent.  

Honored to have Dave Wiens making pancakes, sausage, and coffee.

I scarfed down a banana with some espresso-strength coffee while Tom Purvis lubed my chain.  I had to light a fire under Kip.  I could tell he was wanting to sit down and get some enjoyment out of this station, but now was not the time to pull up a chair to a smorgasboard of goodness. Having spent 10 minutes here, I was ready to roll.  My plan for this race consisted of "smell the roses" pace up to Aid Station #2 and the remainder would be at party pace.  I was feeling pretty good and anxious to get to Monarch.  But between me and the Monarch Crest was 11 miles and 2500 feet of climbing.  As we pedaled away, I looked for Jake, but there was no sign of him.  I hoped he was alright.

After a slight descent through the valley, we turned left and began the climb up to Monarch Pass.  I tried pushing the pace a little, but my stomach was heavy and not feeling so well.  I backed it off and watched Kip pull away.  About halfway up, even though I was not going any faster, I reeled him back in.  I was getting hot and ready to shed some layers and told Kip so.  He stopped as well and revealed that he was not feeling well either.  I attributed my heavy gut to eating too much fat and protein, which was just not digesting at this altitude.  Once I finished shedding, I told Kip I would soft pedal and wait on him.  But he said to go on, he did not want to hold me back.  I figured at the pace I was going, he would soon catch up, but that would be the last I saw of him until after the finish.

Aid Station 2.5 on Old Monarch Pass Road

Once at the top, I began to feel better.  I hung a right on the Continental Divide Trail and began single tracking my way to the new Monarch Pass, where my pit crew awaited.

Nice surface up to Old Monarch Pass

Course was well marked, never took a wrong turn, but sometimes nervously wondered a bit as there was not much in the way of confirmatory flagging.

I made it to Aid Station #3 around 10 am.  Zeke, Anne, and Lisa were all there to help.  While I shed more clothes, emptied my CamelBak of nonessentials, refilled with water, and reapplied Chamois Butt'r, Zeke lubed my bike while Anne and Lisa picked up my discarded items.  This was my quickest stop thus far, just shy of 5 minutes.

With a happy gut, I was ready to enjoy the rest of my ride.  The Monarch Crest Trail was gorgeous.  I wanted to take so many pictures, but forced myself to stay on the bike and enjoy the flow.  The trail was in great shape, although it was a bit sketchy in places, since it had been so dry leading up to this race. Funny, but as I rode the trail, memories of 2009 came flooding back:  buttsliding down snowpack that covered the trail, following Kent's wicked lines down the descents, and taking photo ops with Zeke.



I was about 3 miles from Marshall Pass, descending a technical rock garden, when I heard a crash and a bang.  I looked down and my Feed Bag had yardsaled everything out of it, including my camera.  I panicked!  I stopped and quickly found my multi-tool and food.  But the camera was nowhere to be seen.  I ran back up the trail about 1/3 mile to no avail.  After 5-10 minutes, the racer in me told me to forget it and go.  So I looked up at the sky and said, "It is in your hands now."  

I was a bit dejected finishing up the descent.  About 5 minutes into my pity party, Riley rolled up behind me.  I pulled over to let him by.  He stopped and asked if I had lost a red Olympus camera.  
Tears about came to my eyes.  I wanted to hug the crap out of him, but instead took my camera back and followed his lines down.  Back in happy mode, I rolled into Aid Station #4.

I knew that the Starvation Creek Loop was going to be hard.  I was mentally prepared to grind my way back out of the hole I would ride down on some sweet flowy single track.  I kept my load as light as possible, only taking 30 ounces of water with me.  The loop started out by climbing up a jeep road. Thinking that the climb was not that long, I began to wonder if somehow I strayed off-course when the climbing went on and on.  Finally, I saw the turn off onto the Starvation Creek Trail.  

Otherwise known as the Loop of the Walking Dead

Starting at an elevation of almost 11,000, this trail descends 4.2 miles and loses 1800 feet of elevation.  Feeling the flow, pumping the bike through the turns, negotiating the 1/2 track sections of rock that had slid down the slopes onto the trail, I was all shits and giggles.  And then just about the point where I began to realize I am going to have to climb out of this hole, I popped out onto Poncha. 

And this was one of the nicer sections of Poncha Creek Road.

Legs that had not been used in the previous 25 minutes were now considering a mutiny.  This road was a tough SOB, like riding uphill on marbles for 4 miles.  The grade was not too steep, but throw in a loose double track climb at mile 95 that soars to the heavens and try riding it without being demoralized.  Towards the top, I alternated between walking and riding trying to eek out every bit of ATP I could.  Three times I thought I saw the Vapor Trail sign that would signal the top of the climb, but when I got closer, it was just a rock or a stump or a cluster of flowers.

Well, since I am walking, might as well capture the moment.

The soul crusher was over in 1 hour 15 minutes.  I decided to celebrate by cramming my mouth full of potato chips and made niceties with the aid station volunteers who knew Kent and Maryann.  I also refilled my CamelBak for the final time with TailWind, which, BTW, is a pretty darn good endurance fuel.  

Thinking it was "all downhill from here,"  my right eye twinged like Scrat's from Ice Age when I caught my first glimpse of the Colorado Trail up to Silver Creek.  I clawed my way up those last 800 feet, pedaling on pure determination.  Seeing the Silver Creek trailhead, I knew that everything from here was "icing on the cake."  I ... was ... going ... to ... finish!

Silver Creek was a chunkier version of Starvation and quite a few more scree fields to maneuver through.  Real tire slicers for sure, I settled during these sections trying to pick a safe line as opposed to just blasting through.  

Silver Creek

Coming down from 10,500 feet to 9000 feet, I could breathe again.  I rolled into the last aid station, scarfed down more potato chips, filled my water bottle, and headed down the Rainbow Trail.  This trail is smooth, fast, and mostly downhill.  There are 10 kickers, 1/2 of which I walked.  My overall feeling at this point was one of elation.  Barring anything stupid, I figured I would make it to the finish under 19 hours.  Having pre ridden this section two days prior, I was very comfortable going at speed.  And I had the fire to do it, too.  I suppose having the altitude governor on the previous 17 hours kept me from going in the red, thus allowing me to have some power left in the engine.

I took in the last few miles of single track for all that it was worth.  I was almost sad to see Hwy 285 come into view.  Zeke was there, patiently awaiting my arrival and ensuring that I popped out from my back country adventure unscathed.  Ever my safety net, Zeke is always on the lookout for me.  Part of it is obligation, as he was the one who gave me this contagion called endurance racing.  But most of it is just the friendship we have built over the last 10 years.

The last 10 miles was like the Snake Creek Gap paved finish on steroids:  5 miles coming off of Monarch at speeds reaching 40 mph, followed by 5 miles of a 3% descent down into the town of Salida.  My legs were blessed with a slight tailwind pushing me to the finish.

2nd place at 18:48.

67 racers started, 48 finished.  No podiums, no prizes.  Finishing this beast and the adventure along the way was the prize.  And a pretty cool touk.

Thanks to all the volunteers who endured long hours and cold temperatures to ensure that this adventure was full of rainbows and kittens.  

Friday, August 7, 2015

Maah Daah Hey Race Report: The Last 56 Miles

Aid Station 2 to Aid Station 3 (mile 51-79, 3300 feet elevation gain)

Nick said that this section would be the most difficult.  That was good to know.  I was beginning to feel the effects of the heat in my performance, but as I left the aid station, my spirits were still high. And my legs were still eager to turn over the pedals.  Usually when I race a hundie, my low point is around the 65-75 mile mark.  I knew what to expect and told myself that once past that point, it was just a NORBA style XC race with 6 bonus miles.

For the first half of this section, the body was hitting on all cylinders.  The climbs were manageable, the descents fun.  I began to pass some 100 and 75 milers, and with each pass a courteous nod or shout out.  I made sure to talk to the women, for this sport is quite intimidating, wanting to let them know just how inspirational they were.

Unfortunately, my fat tire buddy Tyler faded, but I was lucky enough to pick up another riding buddy, Adam, from Wisconsin.  He had raced it last year, so it was like having my own private guide. We took turns pushing into the headwind.  He would let me know about the upcoming climbs.  We shared the duty of holding the cattle gates for one another, but I do believe he held a few more than I.

We were riding together, I in the lead, when we came upon a mud hole crossing.  It appeared completely rideable, with a nice dry, crusty top.  However, not wanting to get any more of that filth on my bike, I opted to walk the logs across it to stay clean.  Adam was right behind me and did the same.  Unfortunately he slipped and his legs disappeared!  It took every bit of strength to free himself from that quagmire.  He was lucky to still be in his shoes after that ordeal.

At one of the many neutral support road crossings, Adam stopped to get help from his wife.  I opted to go on even though he offered his wife up to support me as well.  Not wanting to be a burden, I pedaled on.

I think my first low moment hit me at the MDH mile marker post 38.  I had been riding by these posts all day, but this was the first time I was searching for a mile marker.  I knew the third aid station was around mile marker 17.  Even though I was constantly drinking, my mouth was dry.  The Skratch in my CamelBak was warm, and totally unappealing. By now, I had ridden 8 miles of this section and was 64 miles into the race.  I was nearing the 6 hour mark, the sun was blazing hot, and the tops of my feet were on fire!

At a road crossing, I stopped and almost hugged the volunteer when he said he had some ice in a cooler.  I was able to put several handfuls into my CamelBak.  Not realizing that I had my dirty gloves on until it was too late, I noticed the grass left behind, swirling in the discolored water at the bottom of the cooler.  Sorry, gotta blame that one on fatigue.  Eh, a little dose of cow manure would just challenge the immune systems of those after me.

That bit of ice was just enough for me to put my happy face back on for a few more miles.  As I felt the cold water enter my stomach, my engine came back to life.  And so I stopped looking for mile markers and enjoyed what the Maah Daah Hey had to offer.

Loved how I could see the trail disappear into the horizon.

I was able to hit one more neutral water (and ice) station at the top of a multi-switchback climb. Two young men grabbed my bike and a very nice energetic woman assisted me.  More ICE!  At this point, if they had held up a $50 dollar bill in one hand and a cup of ICE in the other, I would not have batted an eye.  After drinking a 16 ounce bottle of ICE cold water and refilling my CamelBak with ICE cold water, I gotta out of there in a hurry.  You see, as I was refueling, I had bent over to get to the cooler, and when I stood back up, I had a brief moment of dizziness.  That was a bit unnerving; I needed to wrench myself free from the fatigue-dehydration monster.

When I had 6 miles to go to aid station 3, I was in familiar territory as I had ridden this section 2 days prior.  It was one of the more technical sections with lots of short ups and downs and tight twists through the buttes.  Knowing what was coming up bred confidence and I was able to flow through this smoothly.

Pre -ride, MDH mm22

Heading down to the Wannegan campground and aid station 3 almost brought tears to my eyes. Seeing the vehicles and tents below was like a small oasis.  Hoping that it was not a mirage, I negotiated the series of super tight switchbacks down to heaven.  One mistake could have sent me down to the volunteers in a much quicker fashion.

Pre-ride, campground lower left, post to level ground = 300 feet

I rolled into heaven at 8:27.  Upon arrival, a flurry of activity surrounded me.  Volunteers were taking my CamelBak and bike, handing me a Coke. and offering me up a chair, and food.  I felt like a Queen, which immediately brought a smile to my face.  Some of these people were here specifically for their loved ones, but took the time to help out this pitiful, fatigued Tennessean.  Have I told you how much I LOVE the mountain bike community!  Before I knew it, my CamelBak was back to me, filled with ICE and water, and my bike had a freshly lubed chain.  I graciously thanked everyone and was off for the last 25+.

Aid Station 3 to Finish (mile 79-106.3, 2300 feet elevation gain)

As I was climbing out of the campground area to access the trail, Adam was rolling in.  I gave him a smile, and hoped that he would be able to catch up to me.  The next 15 miles had some tough climbs and I needed a pacer.  At this point, even though I was mentally strong, I was slowly becoming a physical wreck.  My stomach was turning sour and around the 9 hour mark, I could no longer take in any calories.  I would now have to rely on my fat-burning diesel engine.

26 miles was a long way, so I broke it up in 5 mile increments.  That made the head game easier.  I was soon passed by a hundie racer, whom I inspired to get out of the chair at the last aid station, and finish this thing.

Although the climbs in this last section were totally doable with fresh legs, I had to get off and HAB quite a few.  Even with a 30/42 combination, the climbs would send my heart rate sky high, my quads and inner thighs would twinge, and dizziness and tunnel vision would follow.  Stopping was not an option.  The sun was at its highest, the temperature had risen to 100 degrees, the wind was like one had opened the oven door, and unless you wanted to scoot under a mesquite bush, there was no shade.  So I took baby steps ... Never ONCE did I think about quitting.  But neither did I want to become a heat casualty, cause alot of people unnecessary work, and acquire a $10,000 helicopter ride.  This last 26 was all about damage control.

The turtle symbolizes patience, determination, steadfastness, and fortitude.

Occasionally I would come across racers that were totally spent, resting in areas that would barely shade a squirrel.  I would talk to them to make sure they were lucid, and then move on.  At one point, a critter darted out in front of me, running down the trail.  In my cross-eyed state, it looked like a mini-velociraptor.  I was later told that it was a roadrunner.  Ha!

Adam eventually caught up to me and together we rode.  Even though we did not talk much, as the saying goes, "misery loves company."  We took a right upon the Buffalo Gap Trail and began following the buffalo head signage.  We had to do this to ride around the portion of the MDH that ran through the southern section of the Theodore Roosevelt National Park.  This trail had alot more horse and cattle traffic and was rougher than the MDH.  Only the creaking of my pivot bearings let me know that my bike's suspension was still working.

Stating that he had found an extra gear, Adam passed me on a climb.  I do believe he felt a little guilty in doing so and which is why he stayed with me for as long as he did.  He is a very caring competitor and was a big help in the latter half of the race.

So little by little those 5 mile chunks ticked along.  85, 90, 95 ...   Coming upon the interstate, I rode a culvert to get to the other side.  Let's just say that through this 50 yard cool pipe, I did the "slow race."  When I exited, the sun shone its wrath back down upon me.  At the last neutral water station, I asked for ice, but unfortunately they were out.  Then a trail angel appeared before my very eyes.  "Do you need ice?  I have some," she said.  Once again, I was saved by a stranger who was waiting for her loved one to arrive and shared her "gold" with me.

Hitting the 100 mile mark, I anxiously surveyed the trail ahead for the familiar cattle gate, which I had ridden to the day before, on and out and back pre-ride from the finish.  At last, I could smell the barn.  Unfortunately, as in previous races, where I could call upon my reserves, today I had none.  So I slogged my way to the finish.  Two more arduous climbs and I could see the interstate far below. The next two miles were a sweet flowy descent.  Exhausted, I rolled along the bike path to the finish. I was thankful for the tailwind.

Just a shell crossing the finish line, no strength left even for a smile.

12 hours, 7 minutes, and  seconds later, I crossed the finish line.  Good enough for the win and 15th overall. I had truly left it all out on the trail.

The struggle was as real as it gets.  But I think that is the driving force behind my desire to do these "insane to some" adventures.  That primal urge to pit mind and body against whatever Mother Nature can throw at you is what makes life worth living.  You just don't get that challenge in king couch-dom, or your air-conditioned cubicle or office.  The Maah Daah Hey 100 (106.3) is in the top 3 of all-time most difficult races.

It took me an hour lying down at the finish line drinking ice cold water and eating a few salty chips to come back to life.  I never urinated during the race and it took 3 hours after the race before I felt the urge to go.

Thank you, Nick, for putting one helluva race together.  From the pre-race details to the hundreds of volunteers to the ICE cold fluids at 3 major aid stations and 5+ road crossing neutral water suppport stations to the post race never ending burritos, you get an A+!

Thank you also to the couple who walked 2 miles with a cooler to provide water hand ups after the climb at Devil's Pass.

Thank you to Adam and his wife who drove me over to Chimney Park to pick up my finish line bag, then drove me to the campground so I could shower, and then paid for my shower.

Looking back now at this race, I could not have done anything better. I had done my homework and knew that the last half of the race was going to be brutal and potentially a soul-crusher. Having a solid nutrition plan is an absolute must to finish.  And the ability to adapt and overcome is a requirement for success.  I had a great acclimation period in the two weeks leading up to this race.  But ... 100 degrees is 100 degrees!  It doesn't matter if it is 0% humidity or 100%, when there is no shade humidity does not factor in.

168 signed up for the madness.  129 started the insanity.  58 made it to the very end.  To all you who finished, you came out of the arena battered, bloody, and bruised ... but victorious!

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Maah Daah Hey 100 Race Report: The First 50 Miles

6 am start (Mountain Time)

"It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat." - Theodore Roosevelt

Nick, the founder of LAND and the Maah Daah Hey 100, said these insirational words just before the start. If Teddy had been alive today, I am sure he would have been toeing the line alongside the 129 racers (168 signed up).

  The race was 106.3 miles long, 99 of which was pure single track.  Just two days before, Nick had ridden the entire route to get a GPX track and do some last minute trail maintainence.  He also made mention of the many cattle paths that crisscrossed the single track.  He reminded us that cows don't mow their trails; over the past 3-4 weeks, volunteers had mowed THE ENTIRE COURSE.  That means that 200+ miles was mown; up one side of the trail and back down the other.

The starting temperature was a cool 58 degrees.  My plan was to ride a steady strong pace, trying to get in as many miles as I could before the sweltering sun beat down upon my back.  I'll be honest, the previous 24 hours, the butterflies were swirling.  17 ladies had signed up, I knew none of them, but I did not fear them.  What I feared was my body's ability to make it through without becoming a heat casualty.  The forecasted high was 96 degrees and with no tree cover, it was going to be an inferno.

Start to Aid Station #1 (mile 0-26, 2700 feet elevation gain)

Fortunately it was not a crazy stupid start.  200 yards through the campground and we hit the single track.  I was in the top 25 or so.  The first 4-5 miles were gentle climbing.  Everyone was content to settle in line and wait for the top to pass.  Even though I was not thirsty, the tube was in my mouth, and I sipped from my CamelBak.  We had both helicopter and drone coverage, which was super cool!

Once at the top, attacks were made and groups began to split up.  The trail opened up as we hit prairie and passing was easy.  There tended to be one good line, with a second track that was fairly smooth as well.  I watched my HR like a hawk, keeping it out of zone 5 and above.  I knew that for each 1 beat less I could keep my heart at, would be 1 beat more I would desperately need towards the end of the race.  As I was passed again and again in the opening miles, I would say silently, "See you this afternoon."

After the climb, the course rolled through prairie.  My legs felt good, my spirits were high, and the flow was spectacular.  Two miles of the trail lie in the northern unit of Theodore Roosevelt National Park.  So we we rerouted onto a mix of single track, double track, and gravel for about 6 miles before reconnecting with the Maah Daah Hey.

Somewhere in the first 25, while I was in my own little bubble, I strayed off course.  Following a steep descent down into a dry creekbed, I missed a sharp right turn out of it, and wandered a bit on a cattle trail.  There was no grass in this creekbed, so I did not know I was off course until I saw a group of racers back tracking.  Fortunately for me, I only lost a few minutes.

And then I found myself sammiched between two fat bikes.  Tyler Keuning was piloting one of those massive beasts like it was a sub-20 pound XC machine.  I thoroughly enjoyed riding with him and the other fat biker, both who had great skills and a nice tempo.  It definitely amplflied the fun factor.

Home, home on the range ... (credit:  Tyler Keuning)

I rolled into the first aid station in 2:18.  The volunteers were awesome!  I had someone help refill my CamelBak with Skratch, and I was outta there NASCAR fast.

Aid Station #1 to Aid Station #2 (mile 26-51, 2200 feet elevation gain)

I was glad I spent the two days prior taking in the spectacular views.

Tyler and I rode this stretch together.  At times we managed to hook up with others.  There were fast sections of prairie sprinkled with chunks of eroded buttes.  The climbs in the praires tended to be about 1/4 - 1/2 mile at a gentle grade.  The climbs in the buttes were short and grunty with several hike-a-bikes (HAB) through dry creek beds.  By this time, I had found a rhythm in the trench portions of the single track.  Most of the time the trench was smoother and faster.

170mm cranks definitely was a plus.

Somewhere along this section I encountered my first Badlands mudhole at a cattle gate.  Fortunately I was able to tippie toe around it while carrying my bike.  Then about 20 yards down the trail, another mudhole appeared.  It was about 3 feet across and I saw tracks where others had ridden through.  So I opted to follow the deepest and cleanest track through it.  There was no standing water, so I thought that it would be a fairly clean ride through.  Boy, was I wrong!  When I hit it with my front tire,  I had the most vile spray of clay mud/manure mix cover my bike and I.  Granted, it was not a full on rooster tail spray, but enough to cover my down tube, rims, drive train, and shoes.  Right then and there I made a mental note to avoid any future ones at all costs.

There must have been 25+ cattle gates to go through on the entire course.  Although heavy, they had a leverage system that made it easy to get off your bike, grab the gate with one hand, tip it up, squeeze through, and then let it fall down behind you.  And, I was lucky enough half the time to be riding with gentlemen who did all the work for me.

Way better than the old loop of barbed wire around a post.

Closing in on the final miles of this section, the helicopter came upon the small group I was in.  For the next 5 minutes, it buzzed us close enough to where I could feel the wind off its blades.  We popped out onto a short stretch of dirt road with a fast descent.  The helicopter was right on us the whole way.  That was badass!  Then we hit some more descending on single track.  The helicopter stuck with us, until we began the next climb, and then peeled off.

Devil's Pass, around mile 43 (mm 53 of the MDH Trail), was intimidating.  It was a fairly steep descent and a mistake could send you plummeting off either side ... for a long way.

Devil's Pass - by far the most spectacular feature on the MDH.

I was closing in on the final miles of this section and eager to get to the second aid station as I was just about out of fluids.  Rolling along the flats leading to the river crossing was when the first heat of the day hit me.  I felt the intensity of the sun's rays on my arms and the tops of my feet.  At least the wind still felt somewhat cool.  I was looking forward to the river crossing.

The Little Missouri River was about 40-50 yards across and mid-thigh deep on me.  The reason the race is run this time of year is because this is when the river is at its lowest.  As I entered the water, I was greeted with a sandy/fine gravel bottom into which my shoes sunk.  The water was not that cold but still offered some refreshment.  I knew now why I was told to put socks in my drop bag at the second aid station.  I could feel the sand and tiny rocks work their way into my shoes with each step.  However, since I was wearing Swiftwick socks, those little bastards could not get between my skin and the socks.  So all I had to do at the next aid station was take off my shoes, knock the rocks and sand out, and carry on.  That helped to save several minutes of changing socks.

The climb up to the second aid station was long and brutally steep.  It was here that I had my first extended HAB session.  While walking up, I made my first assessment.  Legs: good.   HR:  good. Nutrition:  good.  Core temp:  hot, not good.  (later when looking at my Garmin, this was when the temperature hit the 90 degree mark).  Knowing that the upcoming section was going to be the hardest, I told myself that I just needed to take it down a notch, drink more, and stay positive and focused.

I rolled into the aid station at 4:44.  It was a pretty happen' place, so I was left to my own devices.  I refilled my CamelBak with more Skratch, swapped gel flasks, put more sunscreen on, and was outta there in 3 minutes.

Looking at my Garmin and seeing a sub-5 hour for the first 51 miles, I felt that I was going to have close to an 11 hour finish.  Little did I know, the final 5 hours were going to be a test of my fitness, resolve, and perseverance ...

Maah Daah Hey -- Mandan Indian meaning "grandfather, long-lasting."